Memories of Old Iron

Remember your first car? What about the first knee mill you operated? Draw upon your early machining memories as you help new shopfloor employees form theirs.


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I recently had my automotive world come full-circle.

My first car was a 1962 Chevy Impala that my dad, a mechanic, gave to me when I was 15. He and I worked on it during my early driving years, and I learned quite a bit along the way in terms of bodywork, engine rebuilding, and various aspects of routine auto maintenance and repair. I sold it years later, primarily to concentrate on another car project, a 1955 Chevy that I still own. I somewhat regret selling the Impala, and admit to sometimes scanning the popular online auction and classified sites on the off chance that I’ll find it for sale.

While I’ve yet to find that particular car, and chances are I never will, my dad and I recently found and purchased another 1962 Impala to restore. It’s currently parked in my garage, and I tinker with it in my spare time, largely performing bodywork to address the same rotted spots that were rusted on the first one.

I’m no pro, but the work I’ve done is respectable, and, perhaps more importantly, it’s been nice calling to mind those early days when my dad patiently taught me the basics of performing that type of work on that type of car.

I imagine that some of you share a similar fondness for that first machine tool you operated. Like an older car, it probably had its share of idiosyncrasies and issues, but you learned to mitigate those to machine good parts.

No doubt you also remember the people who taught you how to effectively operate that machine while offering helpful tips and tricks along the way. They likely also stressed the importance of safety and adherence to proper shopfloor procedures and practices. Those early lessons helped shape who you are today, the person who now makes decisions about the type of equipment your shop uses and the shopfloor strategies that are applied there.

In addition, you are a mentor to the new employees you bring onboard. In this role, keep your early experiences and lessons learned in mind as you work to develop new shopfloor talent. It takes patience to guide young people as they learn the ropes, perhaps even more so these days, because new hires sometimes do not have any machining background to draw upon. Mistakes will be made, but make it your job to help these novices learn from them just as your mentors did for you many years ago. And because being patient isn’t always easy, it’s helpful when when engaging with your new employees to reflect upon the challenges and struggles you faced years ago (as well as the mistakes that you made) attempting to get parts out the door on time and on spec.

But also value your unique ability to pass along your machining knowledge to young people. You’re not only helping establish a firm foundation for a successful manufacturing career, but you’re also helping them form memories they will fondly reflect upon down the road.